You need only take a brief scan through the business and HR trade journals to see that inclusivity and equal opportunities remain high on the agenda for organisations, and rightly so, but there is still more to be done. It’s not only the ethical thing for businesses to do, it also has a number of knock on benefits for the wider economy.
As a Channel Island resident and senior worker, it’s an issue especially important to me, as the Islands have found it difficult to offer enticing opportunities for new workers and this must surely hold back growth. So, here are some things we must keep in mind, if businesses want to encourage a strong labour market and economy.
Close the gaps, fast
There is much about written about the gender pay gap. A report published last year showed that women are still paid less than their male colleagues in most instances, with the UK public sector being one of the few that manages to succeed in levelling the field. Obviously, this must change and there should be a concerted effort across every industry to tackle this disparity.
Forcing the private sector to implement strict salary bands will likely encounter resistance, especially when budgets are consistently being tightened. But if we can build pressure in the workplace and promote an association between pay inequality and bad business practice we will be able to turn the tide. This is a systemic problem that requires a cultural shift for things to change; by building momentum we should finally see fair remuneration for the same amount of work.
However, let’s not forget that some fantastic work is already being done. ‘Equal pay day’ is helping raise awareness about the challenges we still face and the UK government has declared its ambition to end the gender pay gap within a generation – this will have an impact on how this issue is managed in the Channel Islands. I also see a lot of positive changes being made with my current employer G4S, with equal pay opportunities for apprenticeships and more senior roles. However, there needs to be a sustained effort over time to ensure that progress made becomes permanent. Working cultures are changing, and businesses now clearly acknowledge the value of fair remuneration, which is undoubtedly a good thing. As long as scrutiny of this issue remains high, it will eventually become a thing of the past and the market will diversify.
Certain industries with a well-established labour demographic – like construction, finance and tech – can seem difficult to break into, but time is showing that traditional employment structures and processes are beginning to change. Stats from the ONS show a historic correlation between laws that promotes workplace equality and increasing rates of female workers, so the impetus is there to lobby for more legislation that empowers minorities in all types of industry.
While hiring the best person for the job should always be the top priority for any employer, organisations need to ensure that the hiring process is fair and gives everyone a chance to demonstrate their potential. From a corporate perspective, equal opportunities make sense as it demonstrates a good degree of diligence and responsibility – simply put, it reflects well to show how serious you are about equal opportunities. This should be a bottom line for any business; there has to be a process in place to ensure people are given a fair chance, no matter what background, gender or ethnicity.
Invest in an emerging workforce
There is a continuing issue in the Islands with regard to funding university education and the balance between public and private obligations. Many parents, including myself, are faced with a difficult financial battle to give their children access to the most appropriate higher education with the minimum obligation likely to be £20,000 per annum per child if no assistance is available. It’s not hard to see why. University fees and accommodation are already expensive without factoring in the extra travel (to interviews, between home and campus during holidays etc.) that Island residents have to factor in compared to their mainland counterparts.
There is a clear disparity between funding through the available financial assistance and the reality of how expensive higher education can be. A division also exists between gender and certain educational subjects, which would result in a better and stronger labour market if properly addressed.
Educational establishments are keen to promote STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics) subjects to female students and this is definitely a step in the right direction. I have often thought that initiatives of this type offer a prime opportunity for collaboration with relevant industries – a year of study could be added on as part of a paid internship or apprenticeship with chosen collaborators. A project of this type would instil positive change; tentative or unsure individuals would feel encouraged to pursue something they might not otherwise have chosen and business mentors would be on hand to offer guidance.
So while educational establishments need to source appropriate funding for people wishing to study from further afield, there are also things that industry and enterprise can do to help individuals learn and train for a particular skill – particularly for regional economies like the Channel Islands. Apprenticeships are a hugely valuable resource for getting young people involved in a trade skill, as are intern positions, both of which I am proud to say G4S offers on the Islands and mainland UK. There is an untapped pool of talent out there and a consensus must be reached by a number of bodies to ensure we get the most out of an emerging workforce. Education and training should not be a bold decision for businesses, it needs to become standard practice.
Recognising progress and planning for more
While there is much work to be done by government and industry to level the playing field, there is also opportunity for individuals to take matters into their own hands. Networking events are always a sound way to uncover opportunities and joining sector specific bodies, such as IFMA, BIFM and RICS are excellent ways to build expertise and exploit the potential out there. In this sense, a little can go a long way.
There is plenty of progress. Workplace demographics across all professions has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years. This progress only occurs because we continue to push for positive change; keeping the pressure on helps make things that were once uncommon more commonplace. Recognising success is important. It shows to others that it is possible to do something different. If we invest in people, acknowledge progress and push for more, we will see a more skilled and effective workforce that works for business and the economy alike.
About the author:
Deanne Le Gresley is Managing Director for G4S Channel Islands. In this role, Deanne is responsible for overseeing financial, management and business strategy for G4S in the entire Channel Islands region.